The name Crurotarsi was erected as a node-based clade by Paul Sereno and A.B. Arcucci in 1990 to supplant the old term Pseudosuchia, but with a different definition. Crurotarsi include, by most published definitions, all descendants of the common ancestor of modern crocodiles, ornithosuchids, aetosaurs, and phytosaurs; Nesbitt (2011) provided a shorter definition, defining Crurotarsi as "the least inclusive clade containing Rutiodon carolinensis Emmons, 1856, and Crocodylus niloticus Laurenti, 1768". According to two studies published in 2011, using one of these definitions leads to inclusion of all other true archosaurs in Crurotarsi, due to the possibly very primitive position of the phytosaurs, which means that phytosaurs and crocodilians do not form a clade that wouldn't also include avemetatarsalians (pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and birds). A more restrictive group defined as all archosaurs closer to crocodiles than to birds (matching the traditional content of Crurotarsi) is the Pseudosuchia.
Paul Sereno and A.B. Arcucci named Crurotarsi in 1990, defining it as "Parasuchia [phytosaurs], Ornithosuchidae, Prestosuchus, Suchia, and all descendants of their common ancestor." The groups in this definition were considered crocodile-line archosaurs, as opposed to the bird-line archosaurs. Ornithosuchids were once considered bird-line archosaurs (as implied by their name, which means "bird crocodiles" in Greek) but were later recognized as crocodile-line archosaurs. This reclassification may have inspired Sereno's Crurotarsi, a node-based clade defined by the inclusion of ornithosuchids and other early archosaurs.
Two names were proposed for crocodile-line archosaurs before Crurotarsi was erected. The first, Pseudosuchia, was established as a stem-based clade in 1985. It includes crocodiles and all archosaurs more closely related to crocodiles than to birds. The second, Crocodylotarsi, was named in 1988, possibly as a replacement for Pseudosuchia. The name Pseudosuchia, meaning "false crocodiles", has been used for over a century, and traditionally included aetosaurs. As a clade, Pseudosuchia includes the group Eusuchia, or "true crocodiles". Crocodylotarsi may have been named to remove confusion, but as a stem-based clade it is synonymous with Pseudosuchia. Because Pseudosuchia was named first, it has precedence. Crurotarsi traditionally contains the same archosaurs as Pseudosuchia, but as a node-based clade it is not synonymous.
In 2011, Sterling J. Nesbitt found phytosaurs to be the sister taxon of Archosauria, and therefore not crocodile-line archosaurs. Because phytosaurs are included in the definition of Crurotarsi, this change in their phylogenetic placement expanded the scope of Crurotarsi, which therefore now includes phytosaurs, crocodiles, pterosaurs and dinosaurs. However, Pseudosuchia still contains only crocodile-line archosaurs.
Below is a cladogram modified from Nesbitt (2011) showing the new changes:
^ abcSereno, P.C.; Arcucci, A.B. (1990). "The monophyly of crurotarsal archosaurs and the origin of bird and crocodile ankle joints". Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie Abhandlungen180: 21–52.
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^Gauthier, J. A.; Nesbitt, S. J.; Schachner, E. R.; Bever, G. S.; Joyce, W. G. (2011). "The bipedal stem-crocodilian Poposaurus gracilis: inferring function in fossils and innovation in archosaur locomotion". Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History52: 107–126.
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^Brochu, C.A. (1997). "Synonymy, redundancy, and the name of the crocodlle stem-group". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology17 (2): 448–449. doi:10.1080/02724634.1997.10010992.